Embassy Row: Cultural destruction

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The ambassador from Cyprus was shocked when he read about Islamic terrorists demolishing ancient religious sites in the fabled city of Timbuktu in the strife-torn West African nation of Mali.

Ambassador Pavlos Anastasiades said he had the same reaction to the Taliban’s destruction of the gigantic Buddha monuments carved into the side of a cliff in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley in 2001.

The desecration of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mali and Afghanistan brought back the personal grief he still feels over the loss of Greek-Cypriot cultural heritage in the northern part of Cyprus after Turkish troops landed in 1974.

“Regrettably, this is one of the most tragic consequences of the invasion,” Mr. Anastasiades told editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Tuesday. “I am talking about the systematic destruction of cultural and religious heritage.”

Mr. Anastasiades blamed Turkish troops and Turkish-Cypriot looters for stealing religious icons, friezes and mosaics and selling the treasures on the black market.

The Cypriot government holds Turkey responsible for the desecration of 133 churches, chapels and monasteries. It says Turks converted 77 churches into mosques and one into a luxury hotel.

“We have a very rich cultural heritage. This is where St. Paul and St. Barnabas preached,” he said, referring to the two Christian evangelists who traveled to Cyprus in the first century. “Cyprus‘ cultural heritage … is the world’s cultural heritage.”

Turkish troops invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish-Cypriot population after a Greek military government mounted a coup to annex the island with Greece.

The coup followed bloody clashes between the ethnic-Greek majority and the ethnic-Turkish minority in 1963 and 1964. Twenty years later, Turkish-Cypriots declared independence and founded the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which only Turkey recognizes.

‘DREAM JOB’ OR NIGHTMARE?

Scott Gration - a retired Air Force general who spent much of his childhood in Kenya with his missionary parents - got what he called a “dream job” when President Obama picked him to be ambassador to the East African nation.

But the dream turned into a nightmare when the State Department showed him a draft of a highly critical report on his management at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

Mr. Gration apparently received no support from Mr. Obama, the man he served as a top national security adviser in the 2008 presidential campaign and later as a special envoy to Sudan.

After a little more than a year as ambassador, Mr. Gration issued a detailed statement Friday announcing his resignation effective July 28. He expressed his “great honor” of serving as U.S. ambassador since May 2011.

“However, differences with Washington regarding my leadership style and certain priorities lead me to believe that it’s now time to leave,” he said in the statement posted on the embassy website (nairobi.usembassy.gov). “Being U.S. Ambassador … has been a dream job for my wife and me.”

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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